Have you tried to comfort a friend or family member struggling with fertility road blocks? It can be hard. The pain is as complex and diverse as the thousands of issues that can arise. Today’s article is for the family and friends who want to support their loved one but don’t know where to start or what to say. How does a mother support a daughter going through something she never experienced? How does a brother or sister who has two beautiful children comfort their sibling who doesn’t have the same fortune? How, as a best friend, do you communicate you want to help?
Although there is not a one size fits all solution I can share a few recommendations. I interviewed a handful of women all with different fertility issues to come up with these guidelines. Below are five categories of phrases you should refrain from saying to a couple trying to have kids as well as helpful suggestions on what you could say instead.
#1: Refrain from giving the couple personal advice:
TRY TO RELAX, DON’T WORRY AND IT WILL ALL WORK OUT, MAYBE YOU COULD CHANGE YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE OR DIET
If you know of a couple having fertility issues chances are they have been working towards starting a family long before you were made aware of their situation. Trust me, they have seen specialist, doctors, scheduled multiple appointments, done research, tried everything, and even crossed their fingers. When you try to comfort him or her with personal advice it sounds more like, “Don’t you know having babies is easy… all you have to do is pay a little more attention… and boom it will happen!” Although your intentions are good it puts a lot pressure on a stressed couple and falsely places blame on both of them.
Give the couple a compliment instead. Focus on their specific situation and support them through encouraging words, not advice. When the moment is right you can say, “I think you guys have been so brave for staying positive this year. We admire your strength.” Another option could be, “We are rooting for you guys and hope you get good news soon… you both will be great parents one day.”
#2: Refrain from trying to relate by using other people’s stories:
JOHN AND JANE DOE WENT THROUGH THE SAME SITUATION TWO YEARS AGO AND NOW THEY HAVE A HEALTHY BABY, I HEAR MISS SMITH’S COUSIN GOT THE SAME BAD NEWS BUT HER BABY IS FINE
Once again, if you are aware of a couples struggle it is likely they have been aware for months if not years. This means they are very knowledgeable about their niche issue. When you hear key words like IVF, IUI, HLHS, still birth, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, cancer, etc. it is packed with a lot of complicated particulars too. Just because John and Jane used IVF doesn’t mean its the same IVF as your friend. Just because Miss Smith’s cousin had preeclampsia doesn’t mean its the same preeclampsia situation your friend has.
Do your research but don’t make assumptions. Do you know what the acronym stands for? Was a surgery involved? How long was the recovery? What did it do to her body? How long will it be until they can try to have kids again? Are they mourning the loss of a baby? Will she be able to have kids? Once you understand what’s going on you will feel more confident if the couple decides to open up to you. If the couple decides to share their situation with you start by saying, “I appreciate you sharing this hard news with me. I am sorry to hear about your current situation.” If your time is cut short or you are in a crowded area with no privacy you can always say, “Can I bring you guys dinner this week and talk more? I am sure you are tired after all of those appointments it’s the least I can do.”
#3: Refrain from using comments about time:
YOU STILL HAVE PLENTY OF TIME, YOU ARE STILL SO YOUNG, LET TIME RUN ITS COURSE
Time is your friends worst enemy right now. Dates on a calendar have never flown by so quickly. The couple knows exactly how many months it has been since they started “trying”, how many days since they got the bad news, and they know exactly how many days they have left until they can pick up each others heart and try again (if they even have the energy to start trying again).
Instead of talking about time take the time to write a note. Find a card and write a personal word that says, “We are thinking about both of you this week. Let us know if we can do anything to help.” The card is thoughtful and something that can be read over and over again. It’s a little reminder he or she can put in a book or on their table. One thing my husband and I like to do on our vacations is pick out a postcard and let a friend know we are praying for them. A random act of kindness can go a long way.
#4: Refrain from asking too many questions about baby related topics:
ARE YOU GOING TO THE BABY SHOWER, DID YOU HEAR JANE IS HAVING TWINS, DID YOUR FEET SWELL LIKE MINE IT’S SO ANNOYING
I hope this is an obvious no-no. There is nothing harder for a woman in the midst of a fertility struggle than faking a smile stuck between a million pink cupcakes and pregnant women. Although your friend is truly happy for you AND wants to know how you are doing it can be emotionally overwhelming at times. I will be the first to admit I didn’t have the emotional stability to attend three of my friends’ showers while I was recovering from my miscarriages. So if you spend time with your friend, try to refrain from casually discussing other women’s baby showers, mommy experiences, the excitement of being pregnant, etc. until your loved one assures you it’s o.k.
Looking back, I wish someone had offered to represent me in my absence for the showers I missed. Rather than put pressure on your friend to attend the event or shop for a present you could offer this suggestion, “I know there are a lot of showers coming up between our friends. I am happy to buy a gift from the both of us and represent you at the shower if you can’t make it?”
#5: Refrain from saying nothing or doing nothing
Sometimes it is more painful to hear nothing than to hear the wrong thing. In the long-run your friend will appreciate the fact that you reached out. Many times people ignore the issue because they don’t know what to say or what to do. Other times a couple may feel guilty that they are having a baby and don’t know how to tell their friend without causing pain.
Communication is so important during this time. Do your best to confront the elephant in the room and say, “I am here to listen if you would like to talk about it” or “how can I pray for you?” Once your loved one is ready to sit down and talk about his or her story your job is to sit back and listen. And if your friend asks you to pray let them know periodically that you continue to do so. Other times it’s as simple as showing up at their door step with a box of tissues and no expectations. In this case, your presence says more than the most eloquent sentence could ever say.
If you are expecting a child and you know it would hurt your friend to find out from someone else go ahead a share the news. Say something like, “We wanted to call you and let you know we are due this spring but also wanted to say thank you for being such great friends. We think about you guys often and really hope you guys get good news soon too.”
Use these recommendations as guidelines but remember a lot of the answers you are seeking depend on your friends personality and situation. I hope these suggestions help you as you support your loved one. Oh, and if he or she hasn’t told you already… they appreciate everything you are doing to help (they just might not have the strength to say it right now).